i was up early this morning, excited to finish wrapping gifts and make my way home to shapleigh. i lit a christmas eve fire, put on george winston's 'december' CD, and sat for awhile, sipping coffee, mesmerized by both the flames and winston's piano. "carol of the bells" came on, and i was absolutely flooded by the memories of my christmases past. i closed my eyes and i could smell it, taste it...hear it. i was a kid again with my redheaded freckled-face baby sister, my mom and dad younger, the world safer, more pure, time endless, life barely beginning.
we had such traditions...
every christmas eve we'd make home-made doughnuts--dunkin' donuts cannot hold a candle to the ones we would cook up in that kitchen. we'd each have one, piping hot, and then wrap the rest, except for two, which would be put out later with a tall glass of milk for santa. my sister and i would each open one gift and it would always be matching pajamas that we'd put on immediately. then we'd write a note for santa, take one last look at the tree with its handful of gifts scattered underneath, and then head to bed, knowing sleep would be almost impossible.
our bedrooms were across the hall from each other, and i can remember talking to each other, in the almost-dark, the only light coming from the christmas candles on the window sills in our rooms. i would hear her voice and know she was as excited as i was for the morning to come. we'd jump up and down on our beds, screeching, laughing, filled with adrenaline and anticipation and the kind of frenzy only a little kid can muster up. my mom would beg us to stop, tell us if we didn't go to sleep santa would skip right over our house for sure. finally we'd drift off to sleep, unaware that as soon as our parents heard our slow, steady breathing, their night was only just beginning.
morning would finally come...whoever woke up first would come running into the other's room (4:30 am was not unusual for christmas morning) and whisper wake up wake up wake up it's christmas!! we'd run into the living room, turn on the lights, and the tree that had only a few gifts the night before...well. wow. presents. everywhere. crammed under the tree and flowing half way across the floor. we would jump and yell...we were...delirious. we were allowed to dump out our stockings before waking my parents and then as soon as we ripped through them, we'd go screeching and yelling into their room, tugging on them frantically to wake up. (i learned years later that they would only pretend to be sleeping...that they would listen to us alone in the livingroom and laugh and giggle at our excitement.)
finally they would both get up...make coffee...and the rule was, donuts and milk before unwrapping the gifts. my dad would look out the back door onto the lawn and say hey you guys, come see, looks like santa was here for sure last night!! we'd rush over to the door and sure enough, the snow was covered with reindeer and sleigh tracks and we'd laugh and say "oh my god, oh my god!!" a million times and be stunned and amazed that santa left his own trail in our backyard. (my father continued this particular tradition for many, many years, long after my sister and i figured out who the real santa was. i can remember being home from college and sure enough, he'd look out that back door on christmas morning and yell you guys, come see! my sister and i would look at each other, kind of roll our eyes, laugh, and walk over to the door. wow dad, that's really unbelievable. go santa.) i'm pretty sure that was my dad's way of keeping us all young. i think about it now and it's so sweet to me i could cry.
my mom would put on our christmas albums...bing crosby, jim reeves, brenda lee, dean martin, charley pride. i hear those songs today and i get a lump in my throat. and then we'd all settle in the livingroom, and my dad would start passing out gifts, one at a time so that every gift was savored. it would take HOURS to open them all. literally. looking back now, i still don't know how my parents did it. we were always struggling financially. always. yet every damn christmas that tree would be utterly overflowing with gifts. every wish fulfilled. every dream realized. it was astonishing. when we were finally done, the rest of the day would be spent playing, relaxing, just spending time together. as a family. it was truly precious.
of course when i go home now, the tree isn't quite as overflowing with gifts. and we don't leave santa any donuts or milk. but i get just as excited as i did when i was ten years old. i can't wait to wake up in shapleigh on christmas morning. we play the old albums. my sister and my brother-in-law and my gorgeous neices come over and we laugh, and we eat, and we open gifts, and we dance. and we love. we love so big and so wide that it is more overwhelming and powerful than a million presents could ever be. just being together in the same room with the people who are my very heart and soul...well that's the only gift I'll ever need for christmas.
oh, and i should mention that santa and the reindeer still occasionally leave tracks on the lawn.
i guess some things never change. thank god.
i have more memories than if i were a thousand years old.